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The Top 20 National Parks in Australia

The Top 20 National Parks in Australia

Here is our selection of the 20 national parks not to be missed during your trip to Australia. Desert landscapes, mountainous plains, white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters or tropical forests, Australia has everything. It will seduce even the most reluctant of you! The country has more than 500 national parks covering more than 28 million hectares or 4% of the Australian territory. 14 of these sites are classified as world heritage sites and are protected areas. The first Australian national park (Royal National Park – NSW) was created in 1879. It is the second oldest park in the world after the very famous Yellowstone in the USA. For the record, these parks are not actually “national” because they are managed by state and territory governments (with the exception of a few).

Kakadu, NT

Australia’s largest National Park, Kakadu, is simply enormous and requires at least a few days to really explore it. From endangered wetlands perfect for bird watching, to rivers teeming with crocs and waterfalls to take your breath away – this is the big daddy of them all. No trip to Kakadu is complete with watching sunset from Ubirr or swimming at the top of Gunlom Falls. So definitely get this giant beauty on your bucket list!

Blue Mountains, NSW

Only an hour outside the bustling metropolis of Sydney, the Blue Mountains feel like a world away. So called because of the coloured mist the numerous eucalyptus trees here produce, the Blue Mountains make the perfect place to go on an adventure for the day from the city. Choose from abseiling, hiking, cycling, rock climbing and horse riding, or just admire the view from the famous scenic railway as you pass by the Three Sisters and wonderful Katoomba Falls.

Karijini, WA

In the north of Western Australia, Karijini, known as the jewel of the Pilbara, is renowned for its gorges, waterfalls and deep chasms. All of these features are clustered in the north of the park. This semi-arid area is perfect for a visit during the winter months when temperatures are average, allowing you to enjoy this place to the fullest. You can explore the incredible Hancock Gorge (with its Kermit Pools!) or swim in the warm waters of Fortescue Falls.

Whitsunday Islands, QLD

When it comes to images of paradise, the Whitsunday Islands National Park is hard to beat.

This archipelago, comprised of 74 subtropical islands, stretches along the east coast to Mackay. With a wide range of activities available, you will not be short of things to do here!is offered to you! We advise allowing a few days to fully enjoy the beauty of this national park and all its islands. These slices of heaven are scattered amongst the Great Barrier Reef and boast perfect white beaches, crystal clear waters and an array of awesome activities. Be it a sailing tour, a helicopter flight, a camping trip or a snorkeling experience, the beauty of the Whitsunday Islands really must be seen to be believed. Hotspots include the famous Whitehaven Beach, as well as the ‘Heart Reef’ and Hamilton Island, or the viewpoint of Hill Inlet so make sure you allow a few days to really soak up the magic of this destination.

Litchfield, NT

Located in the Northern Territory and with free access, this park is sure to surprise you! You can see huge termite mounds before taking a dip in one of the park’s many waterholes. With its superb waterfalls, Wangi Falls and Florence Falls, Litchfield National Park is a must-see when visiting the region. There is also a friendly campsite within the park. You can stay there for one or more nights and enjoy a swim at the waterfall just below (just take the stairs).

Wilsons Promontory, Vic

When you visit the heart of Wilsons Promontory, you’ll be amazed at the diversity of the landscapes this park has to offer. With its varied wildlife, breathtaking ocean views, idyllic secluded coves and forests that provide plenty of hiking opportunities, it’s easy to see why this is one of Victoria’s favourite parks.

Carnarvon Gorge, QLD

Not very popular with tourists (and we like that!), this park is one of the country’s hidden treasures. It’s the perfect place to see the local wildlife, go hiking, and admire the Aboriginal art. You’ll also have staggering views from the many vantage points. Don’t miss the breathtaking Carnarvon Gorge! In conclusion, this oasis is definitely worth a visit.

Cradle Mountain, Tas

Hiking enthusiasts will love Tasmania! This small island is full of beautiful places to hike. The Cradle Mountain National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, covers over 160,000 hectares. It is sure to entice you with its many walks and incredible scenery! Lakes, glaciers and rainforests… are home to an abundance of wildlife. This park is a MUST for your list of places to see in Australia because the beauty of cloud-piercing Cradle Mountain will leave you speechless!

Uluru-Kata Tjuta, NT

In the heart of Australia’s Red Centre, this mythical national park is home to the country’s most famous monolith. Uluru (or Ayers Rock), is an impressive and imposing rock formation which sits in the middle of a desert landscape. After hiking it, be sure to explore Kata Tjuta, an incredible 36-dome rock formation located 32km west of Uluru. Sunrises and sunsets over Uluru and Kata Tjuta are not to be missed! Photo enthusiasts (or not), don’t forget your camera and open your eyes wide to take in the sights here!

Great Sandy (Fraser Island), QLD

A World Heritage Site, Fraser Island is the largest island made of sand in the world! Accessible only by 4×4, you will discover numerous freshwater lakes, endless beaches and (not very shy) dingoes that roam freely. In the evening, don’t miss the chance to camp under the stars in one of the many campsites to enjoy the beauty of the place!

Ningaloo Reef, WA

Known as the West Coast’s ‘Little Barrier Reef’, Ningaloo is the only place where you can have the incredible opportunity to swim with whale sharks. The best part is that you have access to its underwater treasures right from the beach. The many brightly coloured corals are eye catching and you are sure to see dolphins, dugongs, sharks and sea turtles.

Daintree, QLD

Accessible after crossing the Daintree River via a small ferry, this national park is home to the famous Mossman Gorge. With its warm and humid climate, the park is a paradise for wildlife. Guided tours will give you an insight into Aboriginal culture and lifestyle. This is a unique and exotic place to be, where, if you’re really lucky, you might even spot a cassowary. There are many walks in the park and plenty of beautiful spots to discover.

Port Campbell, Vic

At the heart of the famous Great Ocean Road lies Port Campbell National Park. The Twelve Apostles, the towering limestone towers in the water (some over 45m high), are the park’s main attraction. A tip: visit the site at sunrise or sunset to admire the light show. You can also see the stunning Lord Arc Gorge and London Bridge, both equally stunning rock formations.

Kalbarri, WA

Located 165km north of Geraldton, this Western Australian national park also has some incredible scenery. Accessible for all types of vehicles, you’ll discover impressive gorges, endless plains, spectacular rock formations such as The Loop, and even deserted beaches. Plan to spend at least one day in the park to experience all its wonders!

Freycinet, Tas

Home to the iconic Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park, on Tasmania’s east coast, offers an unforgettable experience. Granite cliffs surrounded by azure bays and white sandy beaches will leave you speechless. Don’t miss out on the park’s many walks offering exceptional views. In addition, thanks to the many places to camp (or the eco-lodges in the area), you can spend several days enjoying the beauty of the place. Freycinet is a little piece of paradise in the heart of the Tasmanian gem.

François Péron National Park – WA

Located on the Shark Bay peninsula, close to Monkey Mia, this national park is only accessible by 4 wheel drive because the road is actually… sand. In this place of peace and paradise, an incredible feature is that the desert and the sea meet! There are many activities on offer (hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, fishing…) and the fauna and flora are incredible. Manta rays, sharks, dugongs, dolphins, fishes by hundreds, turtles… the marine life is in full swing at François Péron National Park! The ochre sand dunes contrast with the blue of the sea. Do not hesitate to go to the end of the national park to reach Cape Peron and admire its endless seascapes.

Purnululu National Park – WA 

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, don’t miss the remarkable sandstone domes of the Bungle Bungle Range. At 350 million years old, you can explore this remarkable place by land or from the air. Multiple streams and gorges criss-cross the park. It is best to visit during the dry season (April to November) and camp at one of the park’s campsites.

Cape le Grand National Park – WA 

Cape le Grand and its rugged coastline are a must-see when in Australia! Granite outcrops, white sandy beaches and clear water make this national park simply spectacular. If you choose to hike and attempt a climb to Frenchman’s Peak, you’ll have access to amazing panoramic views of the park and its islands and get acquainted with the varied flora and fauna. On the other hand, take advantage of the places to swim, and various nautical activities (surfing, fishing, boating…). Here, you can choose to camp close to the sea and hear the waves close by all night long.

Grampians National Park – VIC 

The hiking trails in this national park are world-renowned and attract walkers from all over. For the more experienced hiker, we recommend climbing to the Grampians’ highest peak, Mount William, or walking the iconic Grampians Peaks Trail, Major Mitchell Plateau or the Fortress and Mt Thackeray night walk.

The area is also home to the largest number of significant and ancient Aboriginal rock paintings and shelters in southern Australia. Don’t miss the majestic waterfalls, mountain vistas and incredible spring blooms. See wildlife including kangaroos and wallabies, emus and native birds. This magnificent park is heritage-listed for its amazing Aboriginal history, animal and plant life and natural beauty! There is no shortage of activities here, as you can enjoy angling, kayaking and canoeing on the many lakes and waterholes (Lake Wartook, Lake Bellfield, Moora Moora Reservoir). Soak up the atmosphere and Aboriginal culture here.

Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park – SA 

This national park is one of South Australia’s iconic destinations! These semi-arid mountain landscapes, dotted with tranquil gorges, cover 95,000 hectares. See the Heysen Range, soak in the Brachina or Bunyeroo Gorge, hike through Wilpena Pound… There is an entrance fee ($12.50/vehicle) and numerous campsites throughout the park. They will allow you to be totally immersed in the indigenous wildlife and rich cultural heritage of the area for one or more nights.

Which ones have you been to and which ones were your favourite?

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Steph Parker
Stephanie Parker is a travel addict and creator of Big World Small Pockets budget travel blog. Originally from Jersey, Channel Islands, but currently based in Australia, she backpacks the world on a shoestring collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile.